Public affairs pros on Brexit: 'We're having the time of our lives'

Both London and Brussels-based public affairs professionals agreed Brexit should be seen as a time of "great opportunity".

L-R, da Costa, Parker, Robertson and Deane
L-R, da Costa, Parker, Robertson and Deane

A panel of lobbyists have admitted that Brexit has proven lucrative to the public affairs industry.

Speaking at the PRCA International Conference on Tuesday, the panel discussed what lessons the industry had learned so far from Brexit, and what else they could be doing to advise their clients.

"We’re having the time of our lives; if you can’t make money in this environment then you’re in the wrong business", said Alex Deane, senior managing director and head of public affairs UK, and strategic communications and partner at FTI consulting.

"More than ever government wants to hear from business; demand is way up."

That said, not all businesses are taking a public position on Brexit. Nikki da Costa, a former director of legislative affairs to the Prime Minister and senior council at Cicero group, said her clients were showing "Brexit reticence" and was reluctant to be drawn into the media debate.

"It’s not a good time (for business) to take a punt on whether it thinks Brexit can be delivered or not," she added.

Ketchum MD of corporate reputation Jamie Robertson said the debate about Brexit was being played out in the extremes and that advice needed to be holistic.

"The more things change, the things stay the same," he added. "I’m surprised to hear that Brexit was always so high up on No 10’s agenda because clients had communicated to me that it didn’t always seem like that was the case."

The panel agreed that the UK PR industry will continue to be one of the strongest in the world despite the impact of Brexit.

Deane said: "People are going to want to tell their customers that everything is ok and they are going to spend money to do that." Robertson added that strong UK access into emerging markets is going to be extremely important.

On whether attitudes towards Brexit had changed, Deane added: "The opportunity for political council has grown and other opportunities are opening up in the boardroom. I think many in the boardroom are frustrated politicians and once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to put back in."

Da Costa said the message she was getting is that business just wants clarity, and that some had sought advice on whether no deal is better than a Jeremy Corbyn government.

Chair and president of the British Chamber of Commerce to the EU and Belgium, Tom Parker, asked what advice would PA professionals be giving between now and the Brexit deadline of October 31.

The panel agreed that there are less opportunities to prevent a 'no deal' scenario. Robertson said the UK's competitive advantage is that it has been a gateway for US and Asian markets into the EU, but that it will still play a huge role as an international centre for business.

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